Portland Trail Blazers: 3 teams that deserve their own “The Last Dance” docuseries

Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Scouting Report. . The Post-Blazermania Era 1979-80. 1. player. 34. Pick Analysis.

One surefire sign that you’ve stamped a spot in basketball lore is when you’ve become associated with a singular phrase. “Kobe,” “LeBron,” “LaMarcus” — when you hear these names, you know, despite the thousands of people who share that sane title.

Despite its rare form in Oregon, the term “Blazermania” has become synonymous in the same way. And while that 1976-77 team is certainly deserving of its own new documentary, a more roundabout story can be told if we begin in the years that succeeded it.

If Kawhi Leonard’s “heel turn” — his transformative final year in San Antonio entertained you in any way, the story of what happened between 1977-78 and 1979-80 with Portland Trail Blazers could strike the same chords. Starting here gives one a chance to see the first legendary Blazers team, and just how quickly mismanagement can cause a special group to crumble.

Portland’s downfall essentially began with a shot. Not a basketball shot, but rather an injection shot that Portland’s medical staff insisted on giving Bill Walton to get him through the 1978 Playoffs. The pressure was obvious, given Portland’s 50-10 start to the season. Walton suggested the team misused the drugs, which contributed into a spiral that stripped Walton of his love of the game until he got to Boston.

Part of what made The Last Dance so special was that one didn’t necessarily need to be a basketball fan to draw inspiration or entertainment. Dennis Rodman ensured that to be true. Characters were abound in Chicago, just as they were in Portland. To recap in cast form:

  • Kermit Washington — An outcast that the NBA remembers for throwing the most consequential punch in league history.
  • Billy Ray Bates — A player we’ve discussed; the “Linsanity before Linsanity.” He came in after just 16 games, won Player of the Week, and averaged 25 points per game in the Playoffs.
  • Maurice Lucas — Akin to Jordan and Pippen’s dynamic, Lucas was the “ying” to Walton’s “yang,” but where stats were similar, their pockets were not. And all of that played into the demise of the team.

And, this team had their own Phil Jackson in the great Dr. Jack Ramsey, a bedrock that kept the team from folding completely. He was among the ten all-time greatest coaches during the “Greatest Players” announcement in 1996.

Credit to Portland for not totally faltering. After winning the 1977 NBA Finals, they went on to a Spurs-esque streak of making the postseason 26 times over the next 27 years. But they missed out on a chance to become a dynastic force, right at the end of the 1970s.